Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Defeated by Ubuntu

My laptop has been in a sorry state for about a year now. The USB
ports died, which meant that I couldn’t use my cordless mouse or
attach my digital camera, and to print I had to route everything
through my ancient desktop PC. Anyway, yesterday I drove to Rangsit
(a small town on the outskirts of Bangkok, about an hour away) where
there’s an enormous shopping mall, Future Park.

On the way I stopped to fill the car up with petrol – but the first
garage had none. (Not that different from my last trip to Tesco-Lotus
where they had neither onions nor potatoes – but the shelves were
overflowing with carrots.) Still, there were plenty of other fuel
stops along the way.

At Future Park I parked in the multistorey car park – a nerve-wracking
experience for me. I definitely haven’t got the hang of reversing
into small spaces yet. I then visited half a dozen computer shops,
comparing their offerings. In the end I settled for a high end HP
computer with a 19″ widescreen monitor. It’s all very black and
shiny, and I love the cord-free mouse and keyboard. The price was
reasonable – a little over £400 – but then, of course, it didn’t come
preloaded with expensive software from Mr. Gates. In fact, it came
with FreeDOS, which might have been state of the art in the early
1980s, but doesn’t hack it now.

It seems to me that HP is conniving with software pirates in Asia.
In Europe and America their computers are sold with a proper operating
system preinstalled, so there’s no incentive to use a pirate operating
system. They know that in Thailand either the customer or (more
usually) the retailer will install a pirate copy of Windows.

Now, I didn’t want to install Windows – pirate or otherwise. This
wasn’t a fit of moral rectitude on my part; rather, I wanted to use a
modern, fast, secure and efficient (and free) operating system. In
short, I’d decided to install Linux – the Ubuntu distribution to be

After I got home I unpacked the boxes, cabled everything together,
stuck the Ubuntu CD into the CD drive and turned my PC on. In less
than 20 minutes everything was fully installed – not only the
operating system, but word processor, spreadsheet, database,
presentation manager and a selection of games. (This is a fraction of
the time it takes to install the Microsoft equivalents. See below.)

Once I started using the computer I was amazed to find how much of it
worked. Even the wireless mouse and keyboard worked perfectly.

There was only one snag: the modem was a WinModem. In other words,
the modem was designed to work only with Microsoft Windows (putting it
a little simplistically). I wasn’t worried. I knew that there was a
solution to the problem. In fact, searching on the Internet showed a
number of solutions – none of which was successful. After several
house of fiddling I reached the conclusion that I could either pay
$20/year to use some commercial software that would allow me to use
the modem, or I could download various software packages and recompile
the kernel. Now, $20 may sound cheap, but I could buy a new “proper”
modem for less than that. In fact, I have a suitable “proper” modem
in one of my other PCs that I could transfer. However, there’s a big
sticker on the back of my PC saying that opening the PC invalidates my

After about 10 hours’ work I have given up. As I sit here I can see
Windows being installed on my beautiful new PC with heaviness in my
hear. What did that poor, innocent PC ever do to have such foul
software forced upon it? It’s already been and hour and a half, and
I’m still only half way through the installation.

(And when the installation is complete, the modem still won’t work –
but at least I know how to fix that relatively easily in Windows.)